Best time to visit: Late Summer
Recommended Hikes: Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Glacier, Two Medicine Lake, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail
Ideal For: Hiking, Wild-life Viewing, Backpacking, Camping, Auto-Touring, Fishing
Where to stay: On the east side of the park (St. Mary, East Glacier, or Many Glacier)
Glacier is "the" favorite national park for a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. It is massive and has a lot to offer, with great wildlife-viewing, outstanding hiking, waterfalls, lakes, and mind-blowing mountainscapes. It is a highly seasonal park - almost everything is closed for most of the year, except for summer. Late summer is best for snow-free hiking routes and roads. Early summer offers its own advantages, including smaller crowds and stronger flowing waterfalls.
Must See Attractions:
Going-to-the-Sun Road - The park's most famous attraction. The road is closed for most of the year, but opens in summer when the snow clears. There are viewpoints where you can pull over, but most of the road is narrow and windy with steep dropoffs to valley's below. The road reaches it's highest point at Logan Pass which is where the hikes to Hidden Lake and the Highline Trail begin. There is a small visitor center at Logan Pass but parking fills up early every day.
Avalanche Lake - This is the big attraction on the park's west side and it can be accessed even when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is still closed. Avalanche Lake is a green gem surrounded by granite cliffs, with multiple waterfalls flowing down into it. Getting here requires a moderate hike by Glacier's standards at about 4.5 miles roundtrip. Click here for more information on this hike.
Many Glacier - This is a compact district on the East side of the park, with a single, out and back road. It's famous for two popular day hikes to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake. The Many Glacier Hotel is a historical landmark right in heart of Many Glacier, and you can take a small ferry across the lakes during summer months. If you are a hiker, you can spend at least two full days in Many Glacier. Auto-tourers can see it in one day.
Two Medicine - Similar to Many Glacier, but without the hotel and slightly smaller crowds. Popular hikes here are No Name Lake, Cobalt Lake and Dawson Pass. Running Eagle Falls is worth seeing as well and it just requires a short walk to reach. Ferries run across Two Medicine Lake during summer which can cut a few miles off the above hikes - read more about them in the hiking section below.
Waterton Lakes National Park - If you bring your passport, you can visit Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. It's a much more developed atmosphere up here - the heart of the park is a full-fledged town with restaurants, shops, and quaint hotels right on the banks of lakes, surrounded by steep mountain faces. Click here for more information on Waterton Lakes.
Glacier NP is frustratingly seasonal. Snow lasts well into summer and comes early in fall, with prime visiting season being just a few months during summer.
Beware of fire season - Late summer is great for open roads and trails but forest fires can render mountain peaks obscured behind smoke.
It's best to get lodging on the east side of the park to significantly reduce daily drive times. There are three major districts on the east side compared to just one on the west side. See more info on the where to stay below.
Glacier is home to both black bears and grizzly bears - proper food storage is required at all times, and extra caution needs to be used whenever hiking in grizzly territory. Read more about bear safety here.
There are boat tours on numerous lakes throughout the park - click here to read more about them and to book online.
Drinking water is available at most developed areas of the park, including visitor centers and campgrounds. Bring your water bottle to fill up.
There is shuttle service that runs the length of the Going-to-the-Sun road during late summer only - using the shuttle is a good way to avoid the hassle of parking, but it can be slow and crowded. There is no charge to use the shuttles - it is included with the park entrance fee.
Glacier also has two tour companies that run private bus tours on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. These are not free, but offer a more in-depth experience than the crowded shuttle system. Read more about the bus tours here.
Where to Stay:
East side of the park.
You will spend much less time driving each day to see everything. Drive time between the east and west side is up to an hour, one-way. If you are planning to visit in late summer, you will need to book your lodging as early as possible. The east-side campgrounds can fill up as soon as they become available on recreation.gov - six months in advance. The west side fills up slower so it's a good option if the east side is full. Hotels on either side of the park are more likely to be available but also much more expensive than camping.
The districts are as follows:
St Mary - A small town on the east edge of the park. This is a perfectly central location to see all of Glacier and Waterton Lakes with the least amount of drive time each day. There are a few options for hotels here and also a campground which can be reserved online here. St Mary is also the access point to the Going-to-the-Sun Road's east end.
East Glacier - Another small town on the east side of the park. East Glacier is right next to the Two Medicine district and offers similar accommodations as St. Mary. It's another good option for lodging on the east side of the park, but I would recommend St Mary over East Glacier if possible.
West Glacier - West Glacier has the park's largest campground called "Fish Creek" which can be reserved online here. It fills up slower than the east-side campgrounds but still fills up in advance. West Glacier has a few options for hotels and restaurants, but the drive times to the east side of the park from here are long. Stay on the east side of the park if you can!
Hiking in Glacier:
Glacier is grizzly bear country - If you plan to hike in Glacier, carry bear spray and read up on ways to reduce your chances of a negative encounter here.
Hidden Lake - Hidden Lake is an unreal sight to behold and one of the most popular spots in the park. It can be enjoyed from high above with a moderate hike or on its shores with a more strenuous hike. The trailhead leaves from the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is entirely above the treeline, making it safe for seeing, but not surprising wildlife. Mountain goats love to hang out in this area - you will very likely see them. The hike is closed whenever the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. Read more about it here.
Highline Trail - Another famous hike that leaves from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The hike starts off with a stomach wrenching stretch along a cliff above the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It continues for miles along the side of the mountain peaks that make up the continental divide, providing stunning views out towards the west. Fit hikers can choose from a few destinations on this trail, and more casual hikers can just go out for a mile or so to soak in the views. Read more about the Highline Trail here. This trail is closed whenever the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed.
Avalanche Lake - This hike offers good return on investment as it's shorter than most Glacier hikes - only about 4.5 miles round-trip. The trailhead is on the West side of the park near Lake Mcdonald, and the hike itself is usually open in early summer even if the Going-to-the-Sun road is still closed. This hike is really popular so expect many others to be on the trail and enjoying the lake next to you. While Avalanche Lake is a great endpoint, the entire hike is below the treeline, so there aren't any other views until you reach the lake. Read more about the hike here.
Grinnell Glacier - Located in the Many Glacier district, Grinnell Glacier is a great day hike to see turquoise lakes and a glacier up close. Hikers can get all the way up to the Glaicer where a small, turquoise lake sits and feeds the larger Grinnell Lake below. The hike can be shortened by using the ferries when they are running in the summer, and this is a good place to see Bighorn Sheep. The hike begins in thick forest but opens up once you reach the first major lake. Read more about the hike here.
Two Medicine - There are a lot of hiking options here - in late summer you can take a ferry across the lake to get closer to out-and-back hiking destinations like Dawson Pass, No Name Lake, Upper Two Medicine Lake, and Cobalt Lake. Crowds are a little thinner here than in Many Glacier.
I haven't personally hiked to Dawson Pass or Iceberg Lake, so be sure to research those as I have heard they are great. There are many more hiking routes that go deep into the Glacier backcountry, but they will require overnight backpacking.